Collection Description

Brief Culture Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Yahgan occupied the southern coast of the island of Tierra del Fuego. They are considered to be extinct. Most of the information on the Yahgan is from the nineteenth century. The Yahgan language was a language isolate with no known relationship to any other. The Yahgan lived in groups of one to three nuclear families who wandered in an area until the food supply was used up and then moved on. There were no higher level social or political groups.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


South America --Southern South America




OWC Code


Collection Information

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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The Yahgan collection consists of three documents; one, a translation from German into English, and two summary style works in English. The major time focus of the collection is roughly from the early nineteenth century to approximately 1925. The primary source of information on the Yahgan in this collection comes from the ethnographic fieldwork in Tierra del Fuego by Martin Gusinde in the early twentieth century (Gusinde, 1961, no. 1). He further supplemented his field data with historical information from the writings of earlier missionaries and explorers in the region to produce a major ethnographic study of a people who probably no longer exist as a viable ethnic society in the twenty-first century. Although drawn from secondary materials, the study by Cooper in the Handbook of South American Indians, vol. 1, The Marginal Tribes, provides an excellent summary introduction to Yahgan culture (Cooper, 1946, no. 2). Lothrop's fieldwork on the Yahgan dates from three months he spent in Tierra del Fuego in 1924-1925. The introduction to this study presents general information on the natural environment of Tierra del Fuego, with notes on its history and relevant bibliography. This section also includes data on the cultural status and physical characteristics of the Fuegans. The portion of this work with particular relevance to the Yahgan is the section entitled "The Canoe Indians". Under this title Lothrop presents a general survey of the culture with emphasis on its material and technological aspects. This work, used in conjunction with Gusinde's monograph, presents a well-rounded overview of Yahgan culture and society at the time the studies were made.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

This culture summary and synopsis were prepared by John Beierle in December 2002.

Collection Indexing Notes

ČIÉXAUS-- the boy's and girl's initiation ceremony at puberty -- category 881


KINA -- a ceremony, often associated with initiation, dramatizing a myth in which women controlled Yahgan society -- category 796

KOSHPIK -- the souls of the dead -- category 775

KUSHPIG -- ghosts -- category 775

WATAUINÉWA -- the supreme being, master of the spirit world -- category 776

YEFĀČEL -- a guardian spirit -- category 776

YÉKAMUŠ -- a shaman -- category 756

YETAITA -- an evil spirit -- category 776

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